Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Saugeen First Nation casino resort just a 'concept'

By Scott Dunn, Sun Times, Owen Sound

SAUGEEN FIRST NATION - Saugeen First Nation Chief Randall Kahgee said plans for a lakeside casino resort proposed on land between Southampton and Sauble Beach are “a concept” and “by no means are any plans finalized.”

The proposal is “in the very initial planning stages,” Kahgee said. “That's a concept that went through kind of a process within the community through our economic development committee over the last couple of years. By no means are any plans finalized.”

The entire concept document is posted at saugeenfirstnation.ca, though it will be taken down temporarily because it has caused confusion, Kahgee said.

It will take another two years or more of community consultation before a decision on whether to proceed is made. But the concept presents an “exciting opportunity,” Kahgee said.

The plan says the project could include a casino hotel, a hotel/conference centre, cabins by the Chippewa Golf Club and cottages along Lake Huron, a spa, pool, village shops and places to eat and drink.

“I appreciate that it's a challenge when you've got to balance that with numerous other priorities but hopefully in two or a couple of years or however long it takes, hopeful this is something the community is going to invest in,” Kahgee said.

He said numerous feasibility studies over the years have all said either a hotel or resort-type facility would do very well in the area as a tourist attraction, even if parts of the plan were scaled back. A study three or four years ago spawned the current concept document, which was prepared by Arizona-based Winding Road Development, more than one year ago, he said.

But lots of work remains to be done, including securing funding, which is a “big piece,” Kahgee said.

Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation spokesman Tony Bitonti said Saugeen First Nation isn't within one of Ontario's the 29 designated gaming zones. Consequently, Saugeen First Nation would have to approach the province for special permission for any new casino and present the OLG with a business case, he said.

Council requests the plans be taken down, Kahgee said. He said inclusion of a casino in the project has become a “distraction,” which requires better communications plans to explain. Website additions should address that, he said.

“It has become almost a distraction – the concept, oh it's a casino – but we lose sight of the fact that there's other pieces or parts to this, right? I think that's been part of the confusion as well,” he said.

“By no means does it mean we're putting the brakes on anything.”

Kahgee said the project would have to conform to the First Nations Land Management Act, the legislation which allows First Nations bands to be freer to develop their lands once they've created their own land codes governing development. The exact location may be determined by environmental priorities, he added.

“The Village Saugeen will be the most significant economic development driver for the Saugeen First Nation community,” the 68-page, heavily illustrated online document says. “It will create substantially new revenue sources through the creation of new lease revenue, business ownership opportunities along with real estate sales and lodging activities.”

The project would have condominiums and townhouses for full- and part-time residents, the plans say, though they're unclear where.

Development of Village Saugeen should be co-ordinated with local schools and Georgian College in Owen Sound to offer new training and vocational programs, the document suggests. The project would offer community members jobs and would be an “everlasting legacy” for the Saugeen people.

Kahgee didn't have the projected number of jobs or the estimated cost of the project at hand Monday.

The plans as proposed call for a three-storey casino hotel with 80 rooms, a spa and 12,000 square-foot conference/meeting space. A 3,000 square-foot casino and 2,000 sq.-ft. bingo parlour would be housed in a two-floor building also containing administration, retail, office space and a restaurant. For comparison, the bingo hall in downtown Owen Sound is 6,000 sq. ft.

A 2,500 sq.-ft. golf clubhouse, 4,000 sq.-ft. cultural centre with four shops, a retail boardwalk with 10 stores, a pool and a lakeside hotel with 60 rooms (though maps show three buildings) are part of the proposal. The plan includes 40 cabins by the golf course and 12 lake cottages, nature trails and a marina.

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